AN OPEN LETTER TO HOLLYWOOD
DISCLAIMER: THERE’S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SEXUAL ASSAULT AND CONSENSUAL KINK! I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU DO IN THE BEDROOM AS LONG AS YOU WANT TO! PLEASE DO NOT YELL AT ME AND SAY I’M KINK-SHAMING! I DON’T CARE!
An Open Letter to Hollywood:
I’m not in the mood to be nice or polite anymore. When I consume media, there are a few things I’d love to stop seeing:
Stop constantly sexualizing women: The most interesting thing about women is not that we are sexually appealing or attractive. Women are just as nuanced, complicated, morally ambiguous, and radically different from one another, just like men are. We are not our breasts, though they are a part of us. Please stop. I don’t want to see constant images of sexualized women flashing before my eyes when I’m really just trying to kill an hour.
Stop traumatizing women: We don’t need trauma to be relevant to a narrative. We don’t have to be constantly abused, torn down, and hurt to be deemed worthy of representation. Fuck you, Hollywood.
Stop sexualizing the trauma of women: Three words: Game of Thrones. GoT has one of the worst track records when it comes to treating the women they portray well. Sansa Stark was their redeeming chance and they decided to have Ramsay Snow rape her. What. The. Fuck? In a show ripe with sexualized violence against women (which only characters portrayed by underage actresses like Maisie Williams, who has recently turned 18, seem to have escaped), Sansa’s sexual assault was -- excuse the cliché -- the straw that broke the camel’s back. Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson said it best:
“Even worse than the idea of Sansa needing this to motivate her into vengeance is the notion that the Theon character needed to watch her rape in order to snap out of whatever zombie/Reek fugue state he’s been walking around in. I’m afraid that is the show’s interpretation, based on where the camera lingered. But the last thing we needed was to have a powerful young woman brought low in order for a male character to find redemption. No thank you.”
Women do not exist and do not bear the tragedies forced upon them to further the development of men.
I wish I could say that Game of Thrones was the sole offender in current media, but women (and their safety and mental health) have become expendable to showrunners and writers, who seem to prefer to tear down and break women instead of having their male characters, oh, I don’t know, treat women like people and stop hurting them and find some other way to redeem the shitty things (if they even do shitty things) they do other than abusing and assaulting them.
I know. David Benioff, Dan Weiss, that may come as a shock to you, especially after you killed off Ros when Esme Bianco didn’t want to do more nude scenes, but it’s a lot easier than you’d think. Just look at shows like Jane the Virgin or The Hour (I’d like it to be known that it’s taken me four days to think of another show that hasn’t used sexual assault as a plot device, which is a testament to either the type of TV I watch or the type of TV produced) , who manage to create sympathetic, messy women without putting them through inordinate amounts of trauma.
This isn’t just a rant directed at Game of Thrones though: my man Shakespeare used rape as as plot device way back in the day, most notably in Titus Andronicus, and the writers of shows like The Fall, True Blood and even fucking Twin Peaks continue to use it as ways to further character development.
Instead of, you know, just developing the character through non-sexualized, non-traumatic means.
This isn’t just a problem that women face: male victims of rape are often used as comedic devices on television shows. Look at The Mindy Project, where James Franco’s character is too drunk to walk, but somehow has sex -- that’s rape. @Mindy Kaling, I love you, but why? Look at Broad City, where Abbi’s not sure whether or not she raped Seth Rogen.
Men deal with the same bullshit, and I’m definitely not trying to reduce that. It can happen to anyone, regardless of gender
The problem isn’t the inclusion of sexual assault -- though I’m very, very hard-pressed to find an example of produced media where sexual assault was absolutely essential to the character’s development, save for maybe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (This also isn’t a call for you to tweet me and tell me every piece of media ever that you think it was warranted in. Put simply, I really don’t care).
And Nisha, you might ask, if inclusion isn’t the problem, then what is? Good question, reader. There are actually two main problems.
The first is the sexualization of assault: sexual assault is the furthest thing from sexually appealing, and if you’re into it, you should probably seek out a therapist and figure your shit out. Assault where it starts off as rape, and then by some miracle, the victim starts responding consensually -- that’s not sexy, Hollywood, and it doesn’t at all invalidate the fact that it is assault. Just stop. Please.
According to Devone Scala, author of an article focused on Media, Objectification, and Sexual Assault, “dehumanizing and objectifying women makes it that much easier to disparage women and can even encourage sexual harassment and violence.”
And that’s not news, but somehow Hollywood seems to believe that dehumanizing and objectifying women in their work (which really is, all that it is doing by including scenes of sexual assault) doesn’t have a general effect on the population.
The second is the lack of screentime given to the aftermath of sexual assault. I think the only real representation of the psychological effects of rape I’ve seen have been in (spoiler alert) Orange Is the New Black, and even then, it was dicey. If you feel a desperate need to include sexual assault, please have the decency to address the very real consequences of it. It’s not a lot to ask, but still, it seems that you think it’s impossible to include. Maybe because it’s not sexy, and what are women on television there for, except to add sex appeal?!
Before you go but Nisha, it’s not ALL Hollywood! -- It is.
I guess this is me begging, entreating, praying that it’ll get better -- the idealist in me thinks I’ll see a move away from sexual assault as a plot device in the near future, but the realistic part of me is cynical. If I could, this is the part where I’d drop the mic -- but since this is an online article, and I can’t do that, I’ll sign off with a simple request:
Stop traumatizing me. Stop hurting me to make me seem sympathetic. I don’t have to disintegrate into ash to become stronger. You are the problem. Please get your shit together. If you can’t create a sympathetic, likable woman without hurting her, that’s because you’re a shitty writer. Fix it.
Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon.